Texas Democratic lawmakers flee state to thwart voting restrictions

Voting rights activists protest against Texas legislators who are advancing a slew of new voting restrictions in Austin, on May 8, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

AUSTIN, TEXAS (REUTERS) - Dozens of Democratic lawmakers left Texas on Monday (July 12) as part of an orchestrated move to derail their Republican colleagues' efforts to pass new voting restrictions and other conservative measures during a special legislative session.

Calling from an airplane headed to Washington DC on Monday afternoon, Texas state Representative Alex Dominguez told Reuters that "nearly everyone" in the House of Representatives' 67-member Democratic caucus had fled the state.

The exodus is intended to deny the legislature the quorum needed to approve any of the measures on Republican Governor Greg Abbott's special-session agenda, including Bills restricting abortion access and blocking transgender students from competing in athletics that correspond with their gender identity.

"If they keep wanting to throw oppressive Bills, then we'll keep fighting them, in whatever way we have to," Mr Dominguez said.

Democratic lawmakers staged a similar walkout on May 30 to boycott a vote on an earlier version of the voting legislation just before the legislature's regular session ended, prompting Mr Abbott to call the special session.

Texas Republicans including the governor and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan condemned the strategy.

"The Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do," Mr Abbott said.

Texas is one of a number of Republican-led states pushing new voting restrictions in the name of enhancing election security, citing former President Donald Trump's false claims that his November election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.

On Sunday, House and Senate committees in the Texas legislature passed new versions of the voting measures, which would prohibit drive-through and 24-hour voting locations, add new identification requirements to mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers.

Votes in the full chambers were expected this week. Instead, Democrats bolted.

Mr Dominguez said Democratic lawmakers would continue working on voting rights legislation and serving their constituents from afar, although he would not discuss their specific plans.

Another Democratic state representative, Mr James Talarico, tweeted a photo of himself alongside dozens of fellow departing lawmakers.

"We're flying to DC to demand Congress pass the For The People Act and save our democracy," Mr Talarico said in the tweet.

President Joe Biden's administration has pledged to continue pushing Congress to pass legislation that protects the right to vote. But Senate Republicans have not backed the legislation, likely dooming it.

Mr Biden will discuss steps the administration plans to take to shore up voting rights in a speech on Tuesday, the White House said.

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